Archives for category: Culture

Human Nature as a social construct

Now, that some doctors are not only able but also willing to perform sex/life changing surgery, the subject has spawned a rather hot debate.

The ‘inputs’ being ‘sex’, ‘gender’ and ‘how each of us feels about it’.

Feels about what?

Well… this is the tricky part.
The what of the matter isn’t so simple…

There are so many things that might be felt here…

How each of us feels about the sex they have been born with.
How each of us feels about the gender role assigned to their particular sex by the particular culture into which they have been born.
How each of us feels about those who have enough courage/money to assume another gender/change their sex.

Please note that while neither the society nor the individuals have anything to do with the birth sex, both the society and the individuals are instrumental in shaping all those feelings.

Since sex/gender is too ‘hot’ right now, let me take a parallel road.

Many of my friends are glad when I invite them to dinner. To a home cooked dinner.
Their appreciation has driven me to improve my cooking skills, over time.
Yet in my culture, men are not supposed to cook – if they are not professionals, of course.
Which I’m not.
Yet very few people, if any at all, see anything strange here.
That being the social construct part.
On the other hand, cooking implies certain individual characteristics. For instance, I find it harder when my nose is running. I have to do it ‘mechanically’. It also demands a lot of patience and the ability to plan in advance. Not to mention the fact that one needs both hands.
My point being that cooking, and gender, is based on a certain physical configuration – both hands, a working nose – a certain state of mind AND a lot of study/social conditioning.

My real point being that every ‘social construct’ is based on ‘nature’.
Just as no builder will ever be able to build anything without ‘bricks’, no society will ever be able to build anything out of nothing.
And just as all builders have to adapt their plans to what they have at their disposal, all social constructs will be limited by ‘human nature’ – how ever adaptable and ingenuous it might be.

Now it’s the moment to remind you that other cultures have dealt differently with this matters. Driven by different kinds of necessity.

“It began hundreds of years ago, deep in the Albanian Alps—an unusual tradition where women, with limited options in life, took the oath of the burrnesha. A pledge to live as a man. To dress like a man, to work like a man, to assume the burdens and the liberties of a man. But these freedoms came with a price: The burrneshas also made a pledge of lifelong celibacy. Today these sworn virgins live on, but their numbers have dwindled. Many Albanians don’t even know they exist. What happens when the society that created you no longer needs you? And how do you live in the meantime?”

 

“In Samoa, gender identity is largely based on a person’s role in the family and if one family has numerous sons and no daughters, it’s not uncommon to raise one of the boys as a girl.

In fact, being a Fa’afaine or the practice of males adopting female gender roles and the attributes traditionally associated with women is deeply embedded in much of Polynesia.”

Confused?

You’re not alone…

“Some Polynesian elders believe there are boys born with the “Fa’afafine spirit,” while others say it can be nurtured.”

 

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SPOKEN

According to Britannica.com, language is “a system of conventional spoken, manual, or written symbols by means of which human beings, as members of a social group and participants in its culture, express themselves. The functions of language include communication, the expression of identity, play, imaginative expression, and emotional release.

Since we’re already dealing in conventions, I’m going to ask you to consider this:
How about we redefine language as ‘any manner in which information is transported across space and or time between two entities which have the possibility to interpret, act and or otherwise intervene on/influence the message, the situation described by the message or both at the same time’?

You’ll surely notice that the second definition is more inclusive that the first, of course. And you’ll also notice the differences. Which aren’t that dramatic, after-all…

– ‘Conventional’…
‘Classic’ languages – English, Chinese, French, Urdu, German,  etc., are more the result of ‘natural evolution’ than of any ‘straightforward’ convention… while Esperanto, the most conventional of the spoken languages, didn’t make it too far.
In this sense, the more natural languages which have evolved ‘on their own’ – without any intentional intervention from those who use it, are not that far away from the ‘classic’ languages. Birds have ‘vocal’ manners of sending distress and ‘sexual’ signals; monkeys and apes also; even social insects, ants and bees, dispose of an entire array of chemicals, sounds and gestures used to convey freshly gathered information from one individual to another.

– ‘by means of which human beings, as members of a social group and participants in its culture, express themselves’.
Really? What’s all this brouhaha about ‘expressing one’s self’? A call for help, ‘expressed’ in any way, shape or form, remains a call for help… regardless of the manner in which it has been expressed. Articulated language, Morse code, sign language or a simple sob. Same thing is valid for a warning call. Most of the times, the caller does it ‘instinctively’ and not to gain any ‘social points’ by ‘expressing’ their care for the rest of the ‘cultural community’ ‘conversant’ in the language used to make the call. The magpie in the video above is one of the exceptions, not the rule. Otherwise, the whole signaling ‘industry’ would have been abandoned long ago… due to the very evolutionary forces which have made language what it is today.

Don't cry wolf

– ‘The functions of language include…”
Isn’t this funny?!? ‘The functions of language include…’ How about ‘some of functions we, users of language, have been able to identify are… “.
Or even ‘some of the uses we’ve been able to put language to are …’?

Quite a lot of confusion… isn’t it?

But language was supposed to make things clearer, not muddier… right?

Tell that to those dogs… the ones sent chasing ghosts by the fake distress calls ‘jokingly’ (?!?) emitted by the magpie in the video at the top of my post…

So…

– ‘Spoken’ language.
Or should I call it ‘extemporaneous’? The way I see it, most ‘spoken’ language is uttered on the spur of the moment… or used to be, anyway.
Nowadays, spoken words can be carefully prepared long time in advance… even made to ‘faithfully’ mimic an impromptu message…

– ‘Written’ language.
While ‘spoken’ messages’ have been used, extemporaneously, for a huge amount of time – and not only by humans, as I mentioned earlier, ‘writing’ has been a late invention. Ours.
Or, at least, this is how we like to believe…
The most important characteristic of ‘written’ – as opposed to ‘spoken’, being ‘verba volant, scripta manent’. ‘Spoken words fly away, written words remain’!
The earliest scripts, both cuneiform and hieroglyphic, were used to ‘transport’ information through time. At first, to conserve data rather than what we currently call ‘complex information’. Inventory and ‘identity’ rather than information which may – or even has to, be interpreted in order to make sense. The early cuneiform clay tablets contained ‘cargo manifests’ and only later some of them had been used to ‘conserve’ the Story of Gilgamesh.

– ‘Operational’ language.
Aren’t you tired of that magpie yet?
Have you even watched the video?
Did you notice how the dogs reacted to the fake distress calls? For the umpteenth time, probably…
For the purposes of the present post, it doesn’t matter whether the magpie actively/conscientiously makes fun of the dogs or just acts out of some sort of an instinctive boredom… something akin to the bright spots we sometimes see when ‘confronted’ by a pitch-black environment. It also doesn’t matter whether the dogs are actually fooled every-time they go out to chase the invented fox or they do it because they experience the same kind of boredom like the one which ‘fuels’ the magpie.
For me, all that counts is the consistent manner in which the target reacts to the message transported through the use of this particular kind of language. It is this kind of consistency which determines the ‘operational’ nature of certain languages.

And now, let’s get to the ‘fun’ part.

The calls emitted by the magpie can be construed as being ‘spoken’, right?
They are of a ‘vocal’ nature, are fleeing by definition – unless someone records them using some artificial devices… yet they are also ‘operational’… since the dogs faithfully execute what they are ‘told’ to do…
Now, if we think of it, most natural languages are ‘operational’ indeed.
Ants and bees use them to direct ‘practical’ action, not to ‘express themselves’…
Calls used by most animals relate to avoiding danger, signaling food or ‘expressing’ sexual ‘desire’… and have little or no connection with anything else.
In this respect, the magpie is an exception, not the rule. And even here, the message is ‘formulated’ ‘operationally’. Simply because magpies don’t ‘know’ any other kinds (uses) of language.

We, humans, have bucked the trend only in the sense that we’ve developed kinds of languages lax enough to allow ‘thinking’.

I’m sure that all of you have noticed that when considering the pros and the cons to something you think using a language, right?
A language ‘lax’ enough to accommodate ‘what if’!

Something which doesn’t ‘fit’ in the ‘language’ used by most nursing babies to ask for more milk…

Huh?!?

thinking

We’re not the only ones able to use tools to solve problems.
We’re not the only ones capable of self-awareness. Otherwise said, to recognize ourselves in a mirror.
We’re not even the only ones able to use language to dampen our feelings for long enough so that the frontal cortex might take over from the amygdala.

So?

But what does it mean to be human?

What if being human means being able to do all those three things, simultaneously?

Well, I’m not so sure I’d be comfortable with that…

‘Dampen our feelings for long enough so that the frontal cortex might take over from the amygdala’.

A key difference between a psychopath and a sociopath is whether he has a conscience, the little voice inside that lets us know when we’re doing something wrong, says L. Michael Tompkins, EdD. He’s a psychologist at the Sacramento County Mental Health Treatment Center.

A psychopath doesn’t have a conscience. If he lies to you so he can steal your money, he won’t feel any moral qualms, though he may pretend to. He may observe others and then act the way they do so he’s not “found out,” Tompkins says.

A sociopath typically has a conscience, but it’s weak. He may know that taking your money is wrong, and he might feel some guilt or remorse, but that won’t stop his behavior.

Both lack empathy, the ability to stand in someone else’s shoes and understand how they feel. But a psychopath has less regard for others, says Aaron Kipnis, PhD, author of The Midas Complex. Someone with this personality type sees others as objects he can use for his own benefit.

Oops!

So one of the very things which make us human might also explain why some of us become psycho/sociopaths?

No, not only one. All three of them.

For a psycho/sociopath to become manifest, one has to behave like one. To act like one. To make the difference between their own persona and the rest – self-awareness, and then to use tools to defend/enhance what makes their own persona so special. Regardless of whatever consequences those actions might impose upon any second or third party.

Then how come we have survived for so long?
As a species?

According to Ernst Mayr – ‘evolution is not about ‘survival of the best’ but about the demise of the unfit’, whatever psycho/sociopathy has plagued us wasn’t enough to kill us.
What kept it in check?
We might have a natural propensity for doing the right thing but… bad things still happen… the mechanism which ‘tames’ us has to be a dynamic one… Does the job in an at least satisfactory manner – we’re still here, it has successfully adapted to whatever historical changes had fallen upon our head – again, we’re still here, but is not fail proof. From time to time, evil explodes into the world.

We’ve somehow coped with these ‘explosions’. For now, at least.

Basically, any future strategy for survival might imply one of the next two scenarios.

Put our faith in God. Who had created us. And who’ll lead us out of whatever predicament we might get in. Even if/when we do it to ourselves. Simply because he is our loving father.

Remember that when we had really pissed him off, he had preferred to cleanse the entire (known) world with water. And learn to reign in our own ability to do the wrong thing.

And, maybe, our distance nephews will consider that being human means being able to innovate AND to knowingly keep that ability in check.

Let’s face it, all of us have asked ourselves, ‘why do we have to go through all this’?

Why are we thrown into this world, without any of us ever been asked about it, only to end up dead?

Well, I haven’t got an answer to this particular question. Sorry for getting your hopes too high.

But, thanks to a friend of mine, I’ve just found the answer to the next best one.

‘Now, if we’re already here, is there anything that we can do about it?’

The gamut of a potential answer to this question runs from ‘end it this very minute’ to ‘let’s do our best, which ever that might be’.

‘End it this very minute’ has the obvious plus of avoiding any additional suffering to that already experienced – and we pretty much know what we can expect as we’ll be getting older, and the equally obvious minus that no one knows what tomorrow will bring.

Literally.

Who amongst us knew, thirty five years ago, that communism will fall? With a bang!
Who amongst us knew, thirty years ago, that the internet will allow us to exchange ideas so fast, across so much of the world?
Who amongst us knew, five minutes ‘before’, who was the soul-mate each of us have been so happy to share everything with since ‘that happy moment’?

OK, let’s do our best then.
But what is this ‘best’?
How can we define it?!?

To each, their own…

It was exactly here that my friend’s input was invaluable.

“Curiosity is an important source of wisdom, but nowhere near as important as pain.”

The very moment that I was reading this, my fingers started to itch:

“I’m afraid both are ‘equally’ important.
The way I see it, curiosity and pain are, intellectually speaking, very similar to man and woman. You cannot have wisdom without a ‘healthy’ dose of both curiosity and pain, just as you cannot possibly conceive a child without enough of both man and woman.
Furthermore, the kind of wisdom/child you end up with depends heavily on how well both factors manage to cooperate in their ‘discourse’. Not to mention how important is the ‘environment’ where wisdom is ‘attempted’ and ‘child’ is raised.
In this sense, curiosity and pain are just as equal as man and woman are equal.
Or should I say ‘so complementary that neither of them can fulfill their meaning if the other is absent’?”
At first glimpse, this whole thing seems extremely reductionist.
What about those who cannot/want not to have children? Am I implying they’re wasting their lives?
And what about the few who cannot even comprehend the concept of wisdom? Are they to be ‘set aside’?!?
Take a deep breath!
What I’ve just understood is simple.
Basically, these are the only two things over which we have the slightest degree of control.
To give birth – to the next generation of humans, and to learn. To add something to the accrued understanding which is known as ‘culture’.
‘End it, this very minute!’ versus ‘Do our best!’
In order to add something to the future of mankind, not all of us actually need to ‘give birth’. Not all of us actually need to become the next Steven Hawking – I have chosen him as an example because he had just passed away this morning.
But how better this world will become as more and more of us will learn to balance ‘curiosity’ and ‘pain’?
As more and more of us will learn to encourage ‘curiosity’ – their own as well as that of others?
As more and more of us will train themselves to apply only the least amount of ‘curative pain’ whenever they are in control?
As more and more of us will understand that in so many instances both curiosity and pain are more a matter of chance than of ‘due diligence’, and, as a consequence of their newly found understanding, will be more willing to extend a helping hand to both curious and painful?
Flash back from earlier this morning.
Another friend of mine had mentioned a Russian proverb – his translation, I don’t speak the language.

“Do not try “raising/shaping” your kids.

Whatever you do, they’ll still grow to resemble you.
Educate/shape yourself.”
There’s nothing else left to be done but to shape ourselves.
This way we’ll contribute both to the future of mankind and to our own.
It’s a lot nicer, and safer too, to live among people who entertain an atmosphere of mutual respect amongst all of them than to attempt to survive in a ‘top dog takes all’ ‘urban jungle’.
the golden rule

history-written-by-the-victors

Quite a lot of people, most of them after misreading Machiavelli, have convinced themselves that ‘history is written by the victors’.

Even Winston Churchill, once a victor himself, had fallen into this trap.

Lately, more and more have started to doubt this assertion.

History is written by the writers.
Steve Theodore, professional game developer, amateur know-it-all

Ouch!

OK, let me dig deeper.

In reality, being able to write is not enough.

In order to be able to write about something, you have to survive it first.

And something else. Merely writing it would not necessarily preserve that information for further referral. For us to be able to read it. And be influenced by it.

So, the history that we are aware of today has been written by those who have survived the events, were smart enough to write and to understand the real importance of what they have just done. And to preserve the results of their effort.

But there’s more to it.
Basically there are at least two manners in which someone can describe something.
As close to what they honestly remember or in such a way as to bring as many benefits to the writer as possible.

I’m sure that you’ve already figured out what I’m hinting at.
Yes, the first manner of writing produces ‘true’ history while the second yields mere ‘propaganda’.

Which can be, indeed, useful.

On the shortest of times and only as long as the writer itself does not start to believe in his own writings!

Otherwise they’ll join the fate of the likes of Goebbels and …

goebbels-children

You know, Hitler’s very efficient ‘spin doctor‘ (“Think of the press as a great keyboard
on which the government can play.”) who, at the end of WWII and with the help of his wife Magda, had “murdered their six children and killed themselves as Soviet forces closed in on the bunker.” Would you call that a ‘victory’?
But we have to give him what was really his. He was a ‘man of his word’.
If the day should ever come when we must go, if some day we are compelled to leave the scene of history, we will slam the door so hard that the universe will shake and mankind will stand back in stupefaction..

So.
For some people to write history and for that history to remain as they have written it, the writers had to survive ‘it’, learn from what had happened to them that they were the in possession of very important information and decide to pass on that information, as truthfully as possible, to the next generations.
To help them survive if/when confronted with a similar ordeal.
And this very fact, that the history they had written taught someone how to survive, transforms the writer into the real winner.

In fact ‘history’ will be passed from one generation to another only as long as the next generation replaces peacefully the older one. Only as long as the older one helps the new generation to ascend into the future.

Otherwise, if the ‘children’ have to fight their ‘parents’ – as in ‘contradict what they had been taught by their teachers’ – in order to remain alive, they will also re-write the ‘history’ they had to fight against while struggling to survive.

Some people believe that “racial prejudice” is “the natural human inclination … to identity (sic) with members of one’s own tribe, race or ethnic group” and “Post-racial multiculturalism is the exact but equally extreme and insane opposite of Nazi racial ideology“.

Compare this to “Religion, which should foster sisterhood and brotherhood, which should encourage tolerance, respect, compassion, peace, reconciliation, caring and sharing, has far too frequently — perversely — done the opposite. Religion has fueled alienation and conflict and has exacerbated intolerance and injustice and oppression. Some of the ghastliest atrocities have happened and are happening in the name of religion. It need not be so if we can learn the obvious: that no religion can hope to have a monopoly on God, on goodness and virtue and truth“.

What’s going on here?

Where does all this ‘confusion’ come from?

Let me start from the ‘bottom’ of it.

“No religion can hope to have a monopoly on God, on goodness and virtue and truth”.

While I fully agree with Desmond Tutu on the gist of his words I must contradict him on something very important.

Religions cannot hope at all. About anything. Anyway you look at them. No matter which definition you use, religion – all of them – is something that people do together. A common effort.
It is the individuals who are the actual doers. Who love and hate. Or hope, in this case.
Who pretend that their religion is the only true one. Or understand, as Desmond Tutu did, that each religion is yet another manifestation of God.

“Religion has fueled alienation and conflict and has exacerbated intolerance and injustice and oppression.”

Again, it was individual ‘religious’ people who have done all of those things, not religion per se.
All sacred texts have been written by human people. I can even accept that the first manuscript of each religion was directly inspired by God. Only each of them have been copied a thousand times over. And heavily editated.
Then came the individual human people who have read those texts, interpreted them, passed them on and acted upon those interpretations. Upon their convictions, actually.

And this is how “Some of the ghastliest atrocities have happened and are happening in the name of religion”. Not because of ‘religion’ but ‘in the name of religion’.
Simply as a consequence of how certain people have chosen to interpret/use religious teachings.

And not only ‘religious’ teachings.

People are able to interpret – and use in their own (perceived) advantage, every bit of information that comes their way. And now, that we have started to understand more and more about how our brain is working, the manners in which we use that information have become more and more ‘convoluted’.

“Post-racial multiculturalism … began as an understandable overreaction to Nazi racial ideology…before being consolidated by academics into an instrument of socio-political intimidation, rewards, punishments, manipulation and control, a modern, secular replacement for the power-political role of medieval church ideology.”

So.
It was the academics/priests who have done the damage. Not their religion nor the information they had at their disposal.

But why?
How come people whose religions – all of them do this – are adamant about ‘respect your neighbor’ become involved in wars?  Sometimes even in ‘religious’ wars ….
How come academics, whose very job are to teach their students to think autonomously, use their ‘rank’ in order to subdue ‘their’ file?

Could the religious warriors have something in common with the intransigent academics?

How them sharing the unbreakable conviction that they own the truth?
Forged inside the ‘echo-chambers’ where they have grouped themselves according to their specific beliefs? (No matter whether those beliefs are of a religious or ‘rational’ nature…)

Only after I had reached this point in my discourse I was able to fully appreciate Desmond Tutu’s words: ‘Religion … should encourage tolerance, respect, compassion, peace, reconciliation, caring and sharing’.

He doesn’t say anything about giving up on your own kind.
Or about leaving your roots behind.

All he actually says is ‘Be very careful. If all of you will accept to see only the same side of things you will become a herd. And while there is indeed ‘safety in numbers’ all herd members are ultimately headed for the abattoir’.

Diversity isn’t something to be forcefully, hence falsely, celebrated. Or imposed on others.

What we need to preserve, and celebrate, is our ability to ‘walk around’ the things that we encounter. To entertain, and discuss among ourselves, different – even conflictingly different – versions of what we see around us. This ability would only enhance our chances to solve the problems we’ll certainly be faced with.

‘Culture’ is nothing but layer upon layer of place-specific information which have accumulated in time while ‘religion’ is how a certain group of people have learned, again in time, to cooperate in a certain environment.
It doesn’t matter whether that ‘environment’ has been created by a God, has evolved according to Darwin’s theory or both.
What really matters is how we react – conditioned by our cultures and by our religious upbringing – to what is happening to us. Both individually and collectively.

In this sense, each culture we manage to preserve will only add to our chances of long term survival. As long as we’ll learn to sincerely respect each-other, of course.
Again, both individually and collectively.

PS.
A comment on my FB wall, “True religion is God entering history and the lives of humans and revealing Himself. All other religions are man’s attempt to explain the world around him in terms of god or attempts to control lots of other people in the name of some god“, helped me to understand that “There is ‘religion’ – the shared attitude that helps us to cooperate, and there are religions – specific ways that individual communities have traveled in order to attain that attitude.
And something else. What if ‘God entering history’ and enough of us reaching the shared understanding that it is far better to cooperate amongst us – love thy neighbor – than to fight each-other are the same thing?
How to put this understanding into practice? In the various, and continuously changing, circumstances we have to face?

How about this being the very reason for us having so many religions/cultures?

donald-trump-andy-borowitz

Besides the fact that calling someone an “ignorant” is a very ‘Trump’ thing to do in the first place, what if the real problem is that we allowed ‘it’ to become a ‘system’ in the first place?

This way, after the process of learning and teaching – gathering new information and understanding about the world and passing it further to your contemporaries and to the next generations – has become a ‘system’, the ‘open market’ for ideas has become a very well – actually very badly – controlled oligopoly.

Trump, as a social phenomenon, is nothing but yet another symptom of this ‘malaise’ – the incapacity of the contemporary society to make room for everybody. Among other reasons, simply because information no longer flows freely around but is, tighter and tighter, by the ‘system’.
The simple fact that Trump, if elected, would only make things worse… almost doesn’t matter anymore…

Coming back to the ‘system’, the only way to fix it is to open it up, widely. If we continue to allow ‘it’ to divide us into ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’ (read ‘ignorants’) we will actually perpetuate ‘the problem’.

chded7au4aadm5

“The purpose of Halacha is to disturb. To disturb a world that cannot wake up from its slumber because it thinks that it is right.”
Rabbi Dr. Nathan Lopes Cardozo

What is currently known as the ‘North Atlantic Civilization’ is a construction whose blue prints have been initiated in the Middle East, on the Banks of Jordan.

The Jews, those who had started the process and one of the very few peoples/cultures who have survived since that era, have reached a very interesting stage in their development.
Rabbi Dr. Nathan Lopes Cardozo discusses, in a series of articles, some very important ‘contemporary issues’.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the context:
“The word “halakhah” is usually translated as “Jewish Law,” although a more literal (and more appropriate) translation might be “the path that one walks.” The word is derived from the Hebrew root Hei-Lamed-Kaf, meaning to go, to walk or to travel.”
Yigal Amir had killed Yitzhak Rabin in an attempt to halt the Oslo Peace process and
Baruch Goldstein had killed 29 and wounded 125 in “the Muslim prayer hall at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron.

When reading Dr. Cardozo’s considerations please engage yourself in a mental experiment. Try to identify at least one aspect of those mentioned here that doesn’t fit the rest of the North Atlantic cultural space.
I encourage you to use the links and read Dr. Cardozo’s articles in full. I have selected some of his words trying to suggest something, there is a lot more to be learned there.

“One of the greatest tragedies of Judaism in modern times is that certain halachic authorities, as well as people like Yigal Amir and Baruch Goldstein, forgot to study the first book of the Torah. They have become so dedicated to the letter of the law that they have done the inconceivable and have caused the degradation of Halacha.”

http://www.cardozoacademy.org/thoughts-to-ponder/the-desecration-of-halacha/

“It is for this reason that Halacha has always developed on the basis of case law, and not because of overall well-worked-out ideologies. It is sui generis. Much depends on circumstances, the kind of person we are dealing with, local customs, human feelings, and sometimes trivialities. God, as Abraham Joshua Heschel explains, is concerned with everydayness. It is the common deed—with all of its often trivial and contradictory dimensions— that claims His attention. People do not come before God as actors in a play that has been planned down to the minutest detail. If they did, they would be robots and life would be a farce.”

http://www.cardozoacademy.org/thoughts-to-ponder/chaos-theory-halacha-part-1-3/

“Not only do we see a considerable amount of chaotic halachic literature, published by numerous authorities, which seems to lack consistency and order, but we may even find contradictions in the various writings of one halachist. This doesn’t mean that the writer lacks a particular line of thought and some basic principles; it just means that within these norms almost everything is an open market.

I believe this is the reason why the Conservative movement, with all its good intentions and great scholarship, was unable to grasp the imagination of many halachic authorities. It is not the lack of knowledge, but rather the over-systematization that is responsible for this. Once there is too much of a unified weltanschauung and agenda, Halacha loses its vitality. The multitude of attitudes, worldviews, chaotic thinking and sometime wild ideas, through which the greatest halachic authorities freely expressed their opinions, is what kept the Orthodox halachic world alive. In some sense, and even almost paradoxically, Orthodox Halacha is less fundamentalist than Halacha in other movements within Judaism.

None of this should surprise anyone. When looking into the Talmud, which is the very source of Halacha, we find a range of opinions so wide, and often radical, that it is almost impossible to find any sense of order. There’s a reason why the Talmud is compared to a sea in which storms create unpredictable waves and turbulence. The revealed beauty of this natural phenomenon is what attracts people to gaze at the sea for hours on end. It reflects their inner world, which thrives only in the presence of tension, paradox and chaos.”

http://www.cardozoacademy.org/thoughts-to-ponder/chaos-theory-halacha-part-2-3/

“In my opinion, Halacha is in need of more “chaos.” It must allow for many ways to live a halachic life unbound by too many restrictions of conformity and codification. It must make room for autonomy on the part of individuals, to choose their own way once they have undertaken to observe the foundations of Halacha. Acceptance of minority opinions will have to become a real option, and some rabbinical laws must be relaxed so that a more living Judaism will emerge. While some people need more structure than others, in this day and age we must create halachic options that the codes such as the Mishneh Torah of Maimonides and the Shulchan Aruch of Rabbi Yosef Karo do not provide.

Surely those who prefer to live by the strict rules of the codes should continue to do so. For some, these rules are actually a necessity – even a religious obligation – since this may be the only way they can experience God. But they should never become an obstacle to those who are unable to adhere to them. Labeling these new approaches “non-Orthodox,” or “heresy,” is entirely missing the point.

I wish to be clear: I am not advocating Reform or Conservative Judaism which, as I stated earlier, have paradoxically become overly structured and agenda-driven. They lack sufficient “chaos” to make them vigorous.

While there is great beauty in attending synagogue three times a day to pray, we clearly see that much of it has become mechanic – going through the motions, but no religious experience. Yes, it’s better than not being involved in any prayer at all, but the price we pay is increasing by leaps and bounds. It is pushing many away. Codification is the best way to strangle Judaism. By now, Orthodox Judaism has been over-codified and is on its way to becoming more and more irrelevant.

I believe that one of Halacha’s main functions is to protest against a world that is becoming ever more complacent, self-indulgent, insensitive, and egocentric. Many people are unhappy and apathetic. They no longer live a really inspiring life, even though they are surrounded by luxuries, which no one would have even dreamed of only one generation ago.

The purpose of Halacha is to disturb. To disturb a world that cannot wake up from its slumber because it thinks that it is right. The great tragedy is that the halachic community itself has been overcome by exactly those obstacles against which the Halacha has protested and for which it was created. Halachic living has become the victim of Halacha. The religious community has succumbed to the daily grind of halachic living while being disconnected from the spirit of Halacha, which often clashes with halachic conformity for the sake of conformity. Many religious people convince themselves that they are religious because they are “frum.” They are conformists, not because they are religious but because they are often self-pleasers, or are pleasing the communities in which they live.

Large numbers of religious Jews live in self-assurance and ease. The same is true of the secular community. Both live in contentment. But as Rabbi Dr. Louis Jacobs notes: “Who wants a life of contentment? Religion throughout the ages has been used to comfort the troubled. We should now use it to trouble the comfortable…” ”

http://www.cardozoacademy.org/thoughts-to-ponder/chaos-theory-halacha-part-3-3/

truck-nice

When facing an uncertain future, people are hard wired to search their past.
Some look for things that have gone well and hope that reenacting them will bring back a measure of order in their lives.
Some others look for clues pointing to things that went bad, hoping that making them right will change their prospects.

In this respect I remember how fascinated I was when I first heard about Malraux’s “The XXI-st Century will be religious or will not be at all“.
When trying to understand what Malraux wanted to convey we must remember that he started as a left wing intellectual who, at some point, felt an admiration for Stalin. Later, after he found out what Stalin was really up to, Malraux had given up on Stalinism but never on his atheism. So?

Looking even further back in time we arrive at Emile Durkheim’s Suicide.

Written at the end of the XIX-ht century the book teaches us that while suicide remains a profoundly individual decision those who consider it are deeply influenced, when making the call – one way or another, by the strength and nature of the social ties that connect him to the community to which each of them belongs.
Further into the book Durkheim also discusses the fate of the communities themselves, arguing that a society needs to keep a dynamic balance between social control – that keeps a community together – and a healthy dose of deviance – which might pull at the seams of a society but simultaneously allows it to change when it has to do that in order to survive.

OK, all these are very nice but will you come back to our present? You promised us something about the future and you are leading us further and further into the past. Into a ‘mythological’ past, no less…

One of the most pressing issues that we must face today is the advent of ‘lone wolf’ terrorism. The kind that not only scares us the most but also the one that is hardest to prevent.
Some even try to make us accept the idea that we’ll have to learn to live with it.
“No revelations come from the massacre in Nice. There is nothing to be learned. This is what we live with, what we are getting used to living with. None of it is surprising—that’s the most frightening thing of all.” (George Packer, The Tragic and Unsurprising News from Nice, the New Yorker, July 15 2016)

Well, I strongly disagree with this line of thinking.

What happened in Nice, where a lunatic drove a truck through people gathered to watch fire-works celebrating Bastille Day and killed 86 of them, is proving that both Malraux and Durkheim were spot on. Each in his own right.

In the last twenty or so years, terrorist acts have doubled as suicides. Some perpetrated by ‘simple minded’ youngsters driven to desperation by perceived socio-economic inequities and primed by callous so called religious leaders while others were carefully planned and cold-bloodedly executed by apparently sophisticated members of the middle class.

If we interpret these acts according to Durkheim’s theories we might reach the conclusion that the communities that harbor the terrorists do not function properly. Either the individuals feel so constraint by the existing rules that they cannot find enough breathing space – and snap – or that they cannot find enough social support – and go out ‘with a bang’.

Or both, at the same time.

Let’s remember that those who comited most recent terrorist acts, in Europe and in the Middle East – if we count those who joined ISIS coming from the Western Europe, are second generation Muslim immigrants or new Islamic converts.
I’ll deal with these two categories separately.
The second generation immigrants had a very frustrating experience.
Their parents came from abject poverty, worked hard and, most of the time, fared a lot better in their new countries than any of them even dreamed of on arrival – specially when comparing to the situation in their countries of origin. The youngsters went to school alongside the natives, watched the same television programs and read the same books and magazines. And grew to have the same expectations. But had a lot more difficulties when tried to fulfill them. Because of their skin color, religion, etc., etc. Add to that the nefarious propaganda coming from the Wahhabi preachers and you have an already primed keg of gun-powder waiting for a spark.
But let’s not forget that these people live in otherwise closely knit communities.
And that preparations for terrorist acts do take some time and effort.
How come these preparations go unnoticed and, even more important, unreported?

Can we conclude that whole communities have went past the ‘I don’t care anymore’ point?

A situation for which Durkheim used the term ‘Anomie‘?

Could we consider that not only the immigrant Islamic communities are in an anomic state but also the larger, host ones? For letting the whole situation degrade to such an extent? Not only at home but also at the door steps of Europe?
And please remember the new converts to Islam. What happened to those youngsters – most of them are young people –  that they became so estranged to their native society that emigrated to a totally different realm, not to a different country? A few of them might be explained away by individual ‘deviance’ but such a large number becomes a social phenomenon that begs a different explanation.

Should we accept the situation – and the degradation that would inevitably follow if nothing is done – or should we heed to Malraux’s advice and do our best to find new, and more efficient, communication channels so that we’ll be able to built some much needed trust amongst us? Based on mutual respect, not on MAD force?

About 8 years ago a girl meets a guy and they get married.

After four months her family intervenes and helps her get out of a dysfunctional relationship.

He starts another one, has a son, and later kills 50 people in a gay bar some time after a gay couple kissed each-other in front of his child.
“They were kissing each other and touching each other and he said, ‘Look at that. In front of my son they are doing that.”

Isn’t this whole thing very descriptive of the situation we are facing now?

Her family noticed something was wrong – he was abusing her – and helped her out.

Eight years later – after having another relationship, after being investigated by the FBI and issued a gun permit – he snaps and kills 50 people.

Where was his family? His friends? His neighbors? His co-workers?

“In other words, Mateen who according to preliminary reports, had been on a terrorist watchlist, and who still managed to obtain weapons thanks to his various licenses and permits just last week, was employed by one of the world’s largest security companies”.

More than 100 years ago, Emile Durkheim, a French sociologist, discovered that suicide, while being a very personal decision, is heavily influenced by the strength and quality of  the social relations that connect the concerned individual to the rest of the society.

I’m not going to argue now that most acts of terrorism, specially the ones perpetrated in the last 20 or 30 years, are of a suicidal nature. They are but this is a somewhat different problem from what I have in mind right now.

What I’m afraid of is that we, in the West, are killing ourselves.

As a society.

We have stopped caring about the guy next door to the tune of no longer being able to notice that he has become crazy and is about to start shooting.

Left and right.

Us.

Let’s wake up, before there will be no one left to answer the phones.

phones ringing

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